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City Manager Optimistic FAA Will Lift River Market Height Restrictions

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2 minute read

By Kevin Collison

A cloud that’s overshadowed development in the River Market is expected to be lifted next week when city leaders meet with federal aviation officials about height limits that have been hindering projects there.

City Manager Brian Platt is optimistic that what he describes as a high-level meeting with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration will favorably resolve restrictions that have stalled a planned 13-story and even a five-story project in the River Market.

“We have a meeting Tuesday with local and regional FAA officials as well as our consultant to finalize a path forward,” Platt said Wednesday. “We have a couple of options and each solves the problems with air space in the area.

“I’m confident we’ll find a path forward.”

The FAA challenge to projects began last year when Flaherty & Collins proposed a 13-story apartment building at Fifth and Main streets. Federal officials ultimately decided it would interfere with the flight path of aircraft using the nearby Wheeler Downtown Airport.

Then, last month, the developer of a proposed five-story project at 413 Delaware was turned down by the FAA, also citing height restrictions.

A preliminary design of the boutique hotel and condo building proposed for 413 Delaware. (Rendering by Gould Evans)

“Our group was so frustrated,” said Gino Serra. “I had been worried it was just mega projects that were having a problem, but no, it’s a five-story building too.”

The rejection to Serra’s plan for a relatively small boutique hotel and condo building came in a July 13 letter from an FAA staffer in Fort Worth. The developer was told his project exceeded the height restriction by 16 feet.

“Initial findings of this study indicate that the structure as described exceeds obstruction standards and/or would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities,” the FAA letter stated.

“Pending resolution of the issues described below, the structure is presumed to be a hazard to air navigation.”

Officials at Flaherty & Collins could not be reached for comment.

That firm’s proposal for a  13-story, 300-unit apartment development was approved earlier this year by Port KC. The $75 million project is planned for what’s now a city-owned parking lot would occupy a one-acre site and include a 260-space garage.

At the Port KC meeting, Platt testified in favor of the Flaherty & Collins project, saying it was the kind of density needed in downtown Kansas City.

The city manager said he believes the meeting next week with the FAA will allow the 13-story project to move forward.

The FAA height restrictions are intended as safeguards for aircraft using Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport. (Photo from KC Aviation Department website)

“The developments we’re pursuing in the neighborhood are in line with the objectives of the Biden Administration and we want to make sure we get this right,” Platt said.

An FAA spokesman said his agency doesn’t have the power to enforce height restrictions, but added cities that receive federal financial help operating its airport, which Wheeler does, needs to comply or lose its funding.

“Our determinations identify hazards to air navigation,” Tony Molinaro said in a statement.

“Building decisions are up to local governments. However, many local governments and states have laws that prohibit issuing building permits if the FAA determines a structure would pose a hazard for air navigation.

“In addition, federally obligated airport sponsors must comply with Federal Grant Assurances that require to the extent practicable restricting the land use adjacent to airports for purposes compatible with normal airport operations.”

Serra said he and his partners don’t have the resources to challenge the FAA, and decided to let the city handle the situation.

“We’re not going to take the time and money to fight this,” he said. “We’ll let the big developers do it and hope the city leads the way.”

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